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David Douglas Gowan - Rim Country Legend

David Douglas Gowan, familiarly known as Uncle Davy, of Payson, Arizona, the discoverer of what is known as the Goodfellow Natural Bridge, on Pine Creek, in the northwest part of the Tonto National Forest, passed away a few days ago in Deer Creek Canyon, on the east slope of the Mazatzal Mountains, at the ripe old age of eighty-three (83) years* .


Uncle Davy was born in Scotland, of hardy Highland Scottish parentage but boasted of the fact until his death that he was now an American. He took to the high seas at a very early age, serving first in the British Navy, then came to America, it is said, as a sailor on a British slave ship prior to the Civil War. During the war he served as a sailor in the United Stated Navy.


As a sailor, he covered a good part of the globe, but finally purchased his own vessel, a coast-wise vessel, the Dread-naught, and cruised along the Pacific coast until his vessel was destroyed by a storm, Uncle Davy being the sole survivor.


After the loss of his vessel, he took to the mountains. He first came to Arizona in 1874. He returned to California and brought back a band of sheep and some horses. This was in the Indian days and was quite an undertaking. He and his partner, a Mr. Samuels, settled at what is now know as Gisela, on Tonto Creek. They took out the first irrigation ditch at this place, each taking turns at guarding the other against Indians, while working on the ditch.


They were run away from their place several times by Indians. His venture in sheep was not a marked success, many of them dying from eating a course grass that grew at that time.


In 1878, while on the dodge from Indians, he discovered Goodfellow Natural Bridge. He later returned to this interesting discovery, drove a band of Apaches away, who used this vicinity for their camp, and settled near the bridge himself. It is said that he suspended ropes from the top of the bridge and swung into the caves found under it, thereby using his training as a sailor in this undertaking. Ascents can now be made to these caves by ladder, but with the use of the ladder, they are too scary for the average person. Picture then, a man alone in a wilderness country, swinging by ropes until he could secure a foot hold on the rocks from which he was able to explore these caves. It was such men as this who ventured into this Apache infested country in those days and underwent the hardships that few at the present time would care to undertake.


He was the locator of the old Gowan mine on the East Verde River which was one of the best paying early day mines in this district and from which considerable money was taken. The old fortifications at this mine which were used as protection against the Indians are still visible.


He made prospecting his life work after coming to Arizona, and settled near his claims in the Deer Creek Canyon over twenty-five years ago. At this camp he took out a ditch, cleared the ground, planted fruit trees and raised vegetables for himself and those who came that way.

*Uncle Davy was found on January 1, 1926. He had eaten Christmas dinner at the ranch so it is known that he died between Christmas and New Years. This was told to me by AnnaMae Demming. (Pat Cline.)


For more Gila County History visit www.discovergilacounty.com/history


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